Irrigation Leader
Featured,  Interview

John Lind Burley, ID

General Manager | Burley Irrigation District

Years working in irrigation: 10 

Years as manager: 8 

Number of employees: 23 

Size of service area in acres: 48,000 

Amount of water diverted for irrigation per year in acre-feet: Approximately 245,000 

Main crops irrigated: Forage crops, grains, potatoes, sugar beets 

Predominant irrigation methods: Sprinklers, flood 

Irrigation Leader: What is the top issue facing your irrigation district today? 

John Lind: Urbanization and the associated challenges related to water delivery to large residential subdivisions and commercial developments. We’re consulting irrigation entities from larger cities that are a few decades ahead of us to determine the best course of action to plan for urbanization. 

Irrigation Leader: What future issues are you preparing for? 

John Lind: Urbanization, modernization, and operational efficiency. Currently, about 88 percent of our water deliveries are for agricultural use, but that percentage is diminishing as our area’s residential and commercial footprint expands. Balancing the new demands associated with urbanization will require more-modern measurement and delivery infrastructure as well as some targeted infrastructure projects to reduce seepage losses. 

Irrigation Leader: What are your top issues regarding personnel? 

John Lind: The state of Idaho is experiencing record-low unemployment (around 2.4 percent), which has created a tight labor market. We, like many irrigation entities, face a significant challenge in attracting and retaining good employees. The entire district, including the employees, the board of directors, and the management, have looked at ways to enhance our company culture and benefits to make it a more attractive place to work, even though we can’t always compete with larger businesses on a salary basis. 

Irrigation Leader: What training do you currently provide your employees? 

John Lind: We provide significant on-the-job training for a number of key skills, including mechanics, electronics, heavy equipment operation, welding, construction, and milling. We also pay for external training, conferences, certifications, licenses, trade courses, and college classes. 

Irrigation Leader: How much do you spend on training each year? 

John Lind: The vast majority of training happens on the job, and those costs are not tracked separately. The expenditures for external training on an annual basis average $40,000. 

Irrigation Leader: What kind of safety programs do you have in place? 

John Lind: Safety is ingrained in our work culture and consistently reinforced in regular safety meetings and workplace practices. We have an extremely low number of accidents and a correspondingly high safety rating with our insurance company. 

Irrigation Leader: What is the most important thing you have learned as a manager? 

John Lind: I’ll just say it—patience. Patience with myself when I make mistakes, and patience with others when they make mistakes. Patience has to extend to planning, decisionmaking, execution, and improvement efforts. My time in military service (Go Army!) taught me a lot of valuable skills, but one I’ve had to change is how I communicate. Military-style directness is not all that effective outside the military. I’ve had to adapt my mindset and communication style. 

Irrigation Leader: What are the top skills needed to be a successful manager? 

John Lind: I strive to be sincere and authentic in my interactions with people. I try to listen more than I speak. I recognize how important it is to communicate effectively, whether with one person, a few people, or a large group. A key aspect of this is staying grounded and evenhanded. 

Irrigation Leader: What is the best way to work with a board of directors? 

John Lind: In a word, cooperatively. We’re partners in leading the district, which means that to be effective, we have to be honest, candid, and focused on working together for the betterment of the district. 

John Lind is the general manager of Burley Irrigation District. For more about the district, visit burleyirrigation.org.